The board of managers is meeting today, so after the initial flurry of filling carafes with coffee and cleaning boardroom tables, things have been very quiet. Most of the people who tell me what to do are locked behind glass doors, so I’ve been oscillating between working on long-term projects and making up stories to keep myself entertained.
So, if you’d like to read one, here you go.
I am the angel in the asking tree.
I have been hanging form its branches for a long time. Though I couldn’t tell you how long since it is not in the design of crafted angels to mark the passing of months and years. But in the intervening time the cracks in my porcelain surface have grown deep and the eroding winds have worn away the softly painted features of my face, taking my sight along with my eyes.
But there was a time when I shared these branches with hundreds of tokens and figurines: talismans hung by weary pilgrims, embodying great, soul-spun, unanswered questions and ornaments swinging from the lowest branches, carried in tiny hands just before the first frost, by the more preternatural children who preferred wishing trees to postage when it came to communicating with jolly, mystical gift-givers.
We made quite a sight, filling the branches of this great tree: small orbs made of colored glass and large plastic squares emblazoned with the long forgotten images of saints, soft knitted articles containing a single stitched name or formed into the pastel shape of a tiny baby’s sock. We covered every branch the way an over-eager child decorates a Christmas tree, unevenly distributed and bumping into each other, until we stopped completely at some line defined by the reaches of human height. From a distance I imagine it looked like a tree whose bottom two-thirds bloomed with bright unnatural flowers.
The tree became the resting place for even a few immoderate novelties, from suppliants so desperate that they imputed their petition with a costlier sacrifice. A large pendant set with an amethyst, the same deep purple as the bruise that shone under the rich brown eyes of its deliverer, hung from a delicate gold chain. After all these many years I can still picture that girl in all her finery, boots sinking into the mud as she trudged toward us.
Thundering rains had scoured the countryside for days and days, pulling us into the flow of an inescapable river and burying even the memory of dry, warm air. But a short time before her smooth head appeared over the crest of the hill, the rain finally ceased. The clouds, having apparently grown tired of pouring themselves out over a soggy piece of earth, dissipated. The coming night felt like a crisp, freshly laundered blanket, wrapping itself around our hill and our tree and the small town that fell asleep below us.
And suddenly she appeared, a slogging, determined woman clutching a small red traveling case and a bejeweled necklace. She stopped at the top of the rise and exhaling deeply, looked up, taking in the small patch of stars breaking through the veil. The faint pinpricks of light were enough to illuminate the sadness in her knitted brows and the certain set of her slight mouth. Every so often the breeze blew a strand of brown curls across her vision. Carefully, she picked her way through the grass, stepping around the scattered offerings that had been brought down to earth by the storm.
She placed her contribution upon an insubstantial branch and knelt down, sitting back on her feet. And as the moon rose, she sat there, like a patient student waiting for instruction. She looked altogether like a child, despite her height and age. Except for her eyes. The woman contained within those wizened, pleading chasms might have lived a thousand years. Eventually she stood, picked up her valise, and walked out of our world without a backward glance.
Her pendant was carried away sometime later by a youngish man with unshaven cheeks and a patched jacket, who made the journey to our tree in the orange afternoon light of early fall. He gathered two sticks from the ground and fastened them together with a prayer before setting them in the crook of a large branch. He turned then to see a shiny gem swinging in the wind. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he lifted it from its wooden hook.
But all that was a long time ago. Even the tree looks different, its bark stripped away and the trunk bleached bone white. I have been alone here so long that most of the people I’ve watched have been lost in back of my muddled memory, merging into an indefinite mass of need and prayer and love and desperation. My only company for the longest time was the occasional singing sparrow and the wind.
That is, of course, until Clara appeared.